Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

March 3, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

In a recent column, you stated that the Democratic Party's one simple promise should be that it "will not rest until any American willing to work forty hours a week can support a family of four in safe and decent living conditions." As a goal that sounds just wonderful. But how is that to be achieved? I think it's an important question that needs to be answered. Otherwise we're just making empty promises.

Riverton, W

Dear Matt,

Auntie would never advocate making empty promises to the American people. That field is already overcrowded. So I agree with you: if the Democratic Party makes that promise to America, we must be prepared to keep it. To never rest, until the goal is achieved.

I do not delude myself, nor do I advocate we attempt to delude our neighbors, by implying that this is a goal that can be achieved quickly or easily. I do know, however, that it can be achieved, because I remember a time when even a high school dropout could get a full-time job that would enable them to support a family. These were not "easy" jobs. Like a great many of today's jobs, they were mind-numbingly repetitive, often physically demanding, and they conveyed little or no status upon those who held them. But unlike the equivalent jobs today, they provided sufficient pay and benefits so that one full-time wage earner could provide shelter and food and other basic necessities.

No one event, law, policy or decision led to today's sorry state, and no one action, legislative proposal, policy, or position on the part of the Democratic Party today will reverse it. It may take decades, and it will certainly be an arduous, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. And since we have spent some decades now taking one-step-forward-two-(or three)-steps-back, we have a lot of lost ground to make up. Nevertheless, I firmly believe it can be done, if we have the people who want and need those jobs behind us.

As to how - there are a number of things which are needed, and Auntie is not sufficiently knowledgeable or gifted in political strategy development to say which should be done first, or in what order they should be done, etc. Indeed, I would be cautious about laying out too detailed and rigid a plan, because it is certain that those who benefit from abusing cheap labor will mobilize powerful efforts to undermine and counter any efforts to restore value to labor and dignity to workers. We need to remain flexible in order to work effectively in the face of such opposition.

Nevertheless, I think there are a number of efforts and policies which can advance this goal. Some of those that might offer the most efficient progress would include:

  • Finding a way to bring all Americans back into the health insurance/health care payment pool. Half of all bankruptcies among American families today relate to inadequate or non-existent health insurance coverage.

  • Addressing the issue of housing affordability. As long as the housing market includes decrepit, inadequate inner-city and inner-ring suburban stock, and hyper-inflated upscale housing, with very little in between, American families wanting to live in decent housing will need the equivalent of two or three full-time jobs to afford shelter.

  • Creating viable, convenient, affordable public transportation alternatives. The cost of maintaining our grossly inefficient transportation infrastructure not only strains public resources, it prevents the free movement of the workforce in response to available employment opportunities. And that's not even taking into account the costs in health problems and quality-of-life issues an individual automobile-based transportation economy creates.

  • Re-structuring the tax system based on wealth, rather than income. In other words, re-align the system to make tax rates on labor and on capital more equitable, to tax earned and unearned income at similar rates, and to address the value of non-liquid assets as well as cash.

  • Invest in infrastructure improvements that will make America's businesses more competitive and efficient in the world marketplace, by providing them with cost-efficient communications, transportation, and power grids, stable and safe communities, and access to a more highly-educated workforce. Assist them in meeting the costs of that workforce by making housing, health care, transportation, education, and retirement security affordable and secure for all workers through public policies and programs.

  • Develop creative programs to help American businesses and workers transition readily as industries and technologies change, workforce demands shift geographically, and the global economy affects various sectors. This would free up America's entrepreneurs to be creative and competitive, rather than propping up stagnant and/or non-competitive industries at ever-increasing public cost. It would give workers security independent of a particular employer or job category.

I could go on and on, Matt. There are dozens - even hundreds - of things needed to contribute to achieving the goal. But as long as we keep all of those efforts focused on the big picture goal of making it possible for one full-time wage earner to support a family, we have a good chance of mobilizing the support we need to achieve that goal. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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